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Shifting the faultlines of language: A quantitative functional-level exploration of language use in MNC subsidiaries


  • Barner-Rasmussen, Wilhelm
  • Aarnio, Christoffer


The body of case study-based research on language in multinational corporations (MNCs) is growing, but its findings have as yet been subjected to limited statistical validation. In this paper we use quantitative functional-level data to chart language use in subsidiaries' communication with other MNC units and local partner firms, and to analyze some consequences of these patterns against the background of previous qualitative work in the area. Our findings confirm that MNCs are indeed multilingual, but that language fluency varies significantly across functions and organizational levels. This has important implications for communication, knowledge sharing and the viability of formal language strategies.

Suggested Citation

  • Barner-Rasmussen, Wilhelm & Aarnio, Christoffer, 2011. "Shifting the faultlines of language: A quantitative functional-level exploration of language use in MNC subsidiaries," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 46(3), pages 288-295, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:worbus:v:46:y:2011:i:3:p:288-295

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Marschan-Piekkari, Rebecca & Welch, Denice & Welch, Lawrence, 1999. "In the shadow: the impact of language on structure, power and communication in the multinational," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 8(4), pages 421-440, August.
    2. Barner-Rasmussen, Wilhelm & Björkman, Ingmar, 2007. "Language Fluency, Socialization and Inter-Unit Relationships in Chinese and Finnish Subsidiaries," Management and Organization Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 3(01), pages 105-128, March.
    3. Yadong Luo & Oded Shenkar, 2006. "The multinational corporation as a multilingual community: Language and organization in a global context," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Academy of International Business, vol. 37(3), pages 321-339, May.
    4. Janssens, Maddy & Lambert, José & Steyaert, Chris, 2004. "Developing language strategies for international companies: the contribution of translation studies," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 39(4), pages 414-430, November.
    5. Griffith, David A., 2002. "The role of communication competencies in international business relationship development," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 37(4), pages 256-265, January.
    6. Eero Vaara & Janne Tienari & Rebecca Piekkari & Risto Säntti, 2005. "Language and the Circuits of Power in a Merging Multinational Corporation," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 42(3), pages 595-623, May.
    7. Denice Welch & Lawrence Welch & Rebecca Marschan-Piekkari, 2001. "The Persistent Impact of Language on Global Operations," Prometheus, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 19(3), pages 193-209.
    8. Marschan, Rebecca & Welch, Denice & Welch, Lawrence, 1997. "Language: The forgotten factor in multinational management," European Management Journal, Elsevier, vol. 15(5), pages 591-598, October.
    9. Bruce Kogut & Udo Zander, 1993. "Knowledge of the Firm and the Evolutionary Theory of the Multinational Corporation," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Academy of International Business, vol. 24(4), pages 625-645, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Klitmøller, Anders & Lauring, Jakob, 2013. "When global virtual teams share knowledge: Media richness, cultural difference and language commonality," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 48(3), pages 398-406.
    2. Zhang, Ling Eleanor & Harzing, Anne-Wil, 2016. "From dilemmatic struggle to legitimized indifference: Expatriates’ host country language learning and its impact on the expatriate-HCE relationship," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 51(5), pages 774-786.
    3. Amy Church-Morel & A. Bartel-Radic, 2014. "" Not all multilingual teams are created equal " : Conceptualizing language diversity management," Post-Print halshs-01185822, HAL.
    4. Tenzer, Helene & Terjesen, Siri & Harzing, Anne-wil, 2017. "Language in international business : A review and agenda for future research," Other publications TiSEM 8afd108a-9666-4fbb-934f-6, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
    5. Yamao, Sachiko & Sekiguchi, Tomoki, 2015. "Employee commitment to corporate globalization: The role of English language proficiency and human resource practices," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 168-179.
    6. Harzing, Anne-Wil & Pudelko, Markus, 2013. "Language competencies, policies and practices in multinational corporations: A comprehensive review and comparison of Anglophone, Asian, Continental European and Nordic MNCs," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 48(1), pages 87-97.
    7. Lauring, Jakob & Klitmøller, Anders, 2015. "Corporate language-based communication avoidance in MNCs: A multi-sited ethnography approach," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 46-55.
    8. Itani, Sami & Järlström, Maria & Piekkari, Rebecca, 2015. "The meaning of language skills for career mobility in the new career landscape," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 50(2), pages 368-378.
    9. Peltokorpi, Vesa & Yamao, Sachiko, 2017. "Corporate language proficiency in reverse knowledge transfer: A moderated mediation model of shared vision and communication frequency," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 52(3), pages 404-416.
    10. repec:eee:intman:v:23:y:2017:i:4:p:341-349 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Kostova, Tatiana & Marano, Valentina & Tallman, Stephen, 2016. "Headquarters–subsidiary relationships in MNCs: Fifty years of evolving research," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 51(1), pages 176-184.
    12. repec:spr:manint:v:57:y:2017:i:6:d:10.1007_s11575-017-0319-x is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Peltokorpi, Vesa, 2015. "Foreign subsidiary top manager nationality and language policy: The moderating effects of subsidiary age and size," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 24(5), pages 739-748.
    14. repec:hig:wpaper:38man2015 is not listed on IDEAS


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